tn_breakdownBREAKDOWN is a highway suspense thriller starring Kurt Russell. He’s got his wife asleep in their fancy new truck, going on a trip, he takes his eyes off the road onto his coffee thermos for a second, almost nails some gentlemen of the rednecked community who back out into the road in front of him. When he stops at a gas station those guys show up and start puffing their chests out, commenting on his truck. So it’s got that class tension, that tourist guilt that I always dig in a horror or suspense type picture.

That’s good, but on the other hand I definitely prefer Russell as the sardonic working class type. I’m not so sure about him driving a fancy truck like in this one or wearing a tuxedo like in EXECUTIVE DECISION. I still like him on the right side of the tracks (he was still Elvis, after all), but not as much.

mp_breakdownSpeaking of EXECUTIVE DECISION, the gone-too-soon character actor J.T. Walsh plays a truck driver who stops to help when Kurt’s truck is broken down on the highway. He seems nice, but if you’re familiar with Walsh’s work you’ll have your suspicions. Long story short Kurt’s wife gets separated from him, he can’t find her, he thinks Walsh did something with her, nobody believes him. So it’s one of these paranoid ones – what happened? Who’s in on it? How will I prove it?

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this one, because I don’t have a huge amount to feel about it. Pretty good, pretty solid, pretty forgotten already. The director is Jonathan Mostow, who’s probly better doing mid-level movies like this. It’s not as underwhelming as SURROGATES, it’s just about the right amount of whelm. It’s not as exciting as T3, but also doesn’t have to suffer from being compared to T2. It only has to live up to, I don’t know, BLACK DOG or something. I forget what BLACK DOG was about exactly.

The part I thought was most interesting is a major spoiler, so here we go. I don’t have to write spoiler in all caps because I trust you guys. What I liked was how Walsh is this J.T. Walshian asshole, the ringleader of a group of bullies who fuck with tourists, extort money from them and murder them – but then he comes home to a wife and kid who have no idea what he does out there. They think he’s a regular guy. So when Kurt shows up to the house to try to rescue his wife it seems like he’s the maniac, the home invader threatening dad/husband. It’s easy to see how they see it. And the kid knows how to shoot. Then the wife has to deal with her husband’s secret underground chamber, which holds a TEXAS CHAIN SAW style freezer with Kurt’s wife in it. You gotta admit that looks bad. Honey, I can explain. It’s not what it looks like. She told me she needed a place to stay and that it had to be small, underground and refrigerated. I was just trying to help out.

I like those types of situations in movies. I was almost more outraged on behalf of this wife than on behalf of Kurt and his wife. At least they get away. This poor lady now has to raise her kid knowing that the father was murdering people for money. And what did he even do with the money? Was she living extravagantly? Doesn’t look like it. Plus if she keeps the property what’s she gonna do with that underground chamber? She could turn it into a video game lounge or something for the kid but it’s gonna have bad memories, you know.

So that’s why it’s called BREAKDOWN, because there’s this total breakdown in this relationship, a breakdown of communication, a breakdown of respect and trust. When two people are married there shouldn’t be this big of a secret between them, this big of a wall. And even between Kurt and his wife there is kind of this wall, and they gotta break down the wall. Because when they’re sitting there after their truck breaks down, they… oh wait, it’s called BREAKDOWN because their truck breaks down. I get it now. Sorry.

Anyway the lesson is: don’t ever leave your neighborhood. Strangers will get you. You don’t belong. On the other hand Walsh should’ve left his neighborhood. Doing business at home is what got him. So if you’re a good guy don’t leave home and if you’re a bad guy then do.


This entry was posted on Friday, April 30th, 2010 at 12:25 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

83 Responses to “Breakdown”

  1. Not bad review Vern.

    This is one of my guilty pleasure films, i have to admit. Didn’t know much about it when i first saw it, the friends i was with hadn’t even heard of it. After an hour or so of silent tension, then when kurt finally fights back we were all cheering.

    Not an oscar winner by any stretch, but an honest film that takes a simple (but disturbingly) scary premise and brings you along for the ride. (The scene in the diner when Kurt starts wondering just who is involved just drips with tension and paranoia, is it anyone ? is it everyone ?)

    Actually, think i’ll dig it out for a watch.

  2. Why isn’t Kurt Russell making more movies like this? The world needs more medium-budget meat-and-potatoes action-thrillers, and Kurt’s just the man to pull ’em off.

  3. Vern – I’m kinda surprised you didn’t like it more than you did. You needed a silly ridiculous touch to make it higher on your chart?

    Me I thought BREAKDOWN was a legitimate good thriller, basically derivative of THE VANISHING and DUEL, but fuck it better an original derivative (which exists) than just another lameass remake coasting on the title.

    You know, like the second version of THE VANISHING.

  4. I also truly enjoy this film. Heavy-handed though it may be, I love how Mostow at least took the time to lay the character arc for Russell’s character. In the beginning we have the nice truck and the pastel Polo shirt and Russell avoiding confrontation with the guys at the gas station. Then we watch as he evolves into a guy that ducktapes another guy’s throat to the headrest and when he hears the creep say “Fuck you,” he yells “Fuck me? Fuck you.” and then slams on the brakes. Nice evolution from pansy to an almost Wyatt Earp like character. That alone keeps me revisiting this film over the years. Wish more films would include a little character development in straightforward thriller/action films.

  5. I actually thought Breakdown would have benefited more from NOT having Kurt Russell in it – not because he’s a bad actor or anything, but because he’s been an action hero so many times, it kind of undermines the movie’s SLOW buildup and structure. I mean, when you think about it, this is a movie that starts off with a milquetoast yuppie couple on vacation and ends with a Cliffhanger/Indiana Jones-style fistfight off of a truck dangling off a mountain for crying out loud. Which is pretty awesome, but not as awesome as it would have been if we hadn’t seen Russell blowing people away and making oneliners in Escape from LA like right before this.

  6. neal2zod – I would counter-argue your problem with the fact that unlike most action heroes, how many like Russell are willing to get their asses kicked in a movie and come off looking weak and impotent like that character does initially in BREAKDOWN?

    That’s the thing about Kurt. Always had the ability to be both a likeable real enough guy, but also if necessary a decent believable action figure.

    I mean how many actors can have something like BREAKDOWN and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and OVERBOARD and DEATHPROOF and it all makes absolute sense within his filmography?

  7. Kurt also has my favorite moment in VANILLA SKY: When the SPOILER tells Tom Cruise that the SPOILER is all a SPOILER and Kurt is like “Aw, come on!” It’s the most human and naturalistic reaction in the picture.

  8. Majestyk,

    His human and naturalistic reaction is all the more amusing because his character is simply a SPOILER of Tom Cruise’s SPOILER.

  9. Well, if I was going to SPOILER up a SPOILER of my SPOILER, it would probably be Kurt Russell. That’s one thing the movie gets right.

  10. Kurt Russell as a kid played ping pong with Walt Disney.

    He’s just awesome guys.

  11. Agreed – Kurt definitely plays a better “everyman” than most action heroes (see Executive Decision) – but I think the truck fight/action scenes would have been alot more effective if it was someone more like Tom Hanks. Think of the Hitchcockian heroes – Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, etc…. and how effective it was when the movies shifted to full-on action. I actually really liked Hugh Grant’s one foray into suspense/action (Extreme Measures) and wish more non-action actors would try it.

  12. neal2zod – fair enough, though I always think actors do better in action movies than an ex-martial arts instructor or ex-athlete. That’s one of the biggest difference between back in the day and today.

    I mean whether Jason Bourne or TAKEN or James Bond, all those action heroes do the action to pay their mortgages inbetween their drama shit.

  13. Kurt Russell’s Macready was one of my all-time favorite “everyman” characters (the other two being Donald Sutherland in “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” and Tom Cruise in the original “Mission: Impossible”, both for reasons that I’ve already gone into in other films.) It’s been a long, long, long, long, long time since I’ve seen this film and I remember enjoying it somewhat, but I can’t remember all that much about it apart from J T Walsh’s truck driver (who is everything the villain in “Wolf Creek” should’ve been and wasn’t).

  14. On another note – i’ve been meaning to get into this topic with you guys for a while – anybody read Roger Ebert’s review of Breakdown? He spends a lot of time talking about how the villain’s death at the end put a bad taste in his mouth, and how even the audience was stone-faced at the brutality of it. Even though I can see where he’s coming from (the villain WAS developed better than most, and was just revealed to have a wife and kid after all), Kurt and his wife did go through hell, and even my friends I saw it with actually thought Walsh got off EASY (one of my friends said “I’d climb down the mountain and start stomping on him”)

    What do you guys think? Sometimes the hero being too brutal and/or “finishing off” a helpless/subdued bad guy does kind of ruin a movie for me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how shocked I was at what Ryback did to Strannix at the end of Under Siege 1 (which incidentally Ebert gave a positive review to!)

  15. It’s a fine line. You don’t want your hero to be too cold-blooded (unless that his thing) but it’s real cheesy when the hero lets the villain live just so the dude can attack one more time and give the hero carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wants to him. That kind of ending is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. The hero gets to remain pure, but the audience gets to have its bloodlust satisfied.

  16. the second version of THE VANISHING is a guilty pleasure of mine because of Jeff Bridges totally ridiculous and hilarious accent that remains an in joke between me and my dad to this day “your obsession is my weapon”

    and speaking of Kurt Russel, Vern have you ever seen Used Cars? if not then you HAVE to, it’s by far one of the most underrated comedies of the 1980’s, maybe even of all time

  17. Roger Ebert had a similar problem with Sailor Ripley in WILD AT HEART. He was appalled when Sailor busted that guy’s skull open on the marble staircase. Roger, that’s kinda’ the point, man. He’s a violent guy in a violent world. As Mr. Majestyk suggested ‘that’s his thing.’ You push him and you’re gonna get your head bashed in. period. I like that it puts you seriously on edge for the rest of the movie. Then you’re kinda taken aback by his gentleness toward Lula.

  18. Really dug this movie. And I must be cold-hearted, because I’d totally forgotten the Walsh family until this review … but now I recall deciding mom & kid were probably better off with a known murderous rapist rubbed out of the family than an concealed murderous rapist in it. If it’s one or the other. Which is kind of strange, because in movies where faceless villains get mowed down indiscriminately, I’m a lot more charitable toward the humanity of Anonymous Hero Fodder #12. Hey, he’s somebody’s baby too. But Walsh was so persuasively evil here that I pretty much blamed him for any collateral damage to his family, and made all kinds of rationalizations about how his behavior would catch up to them sometime so the sooner the better, etc.

    BREAKDOWN also graced us with the go-to quote for belatedly wising up: “Tow truck my ass!”

  19. Was anyone else pissed off at the sheriff in this? Anyone could tell Kurt was really upset and worried about his wife and really did seem to think JT Walsh took off with her, but the Sheriff just goes “Oh, are you sure you didn’t just have an argument and she ran off? I’ve seen it happen before.” then when Kurt insists NO, it wasn’t like that, he just sorta says “I’ve done all I can. See ya.” and fucks off. It’s also kinda distracting that the Diner owner is the Chief from Rescue Me. What the fuck’s a New Yorker doing running a diner out in the middle of nowhere like that?

  20. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this, but I thought it was very good, and not as a guilty pleasure. It was genuinely a smart, very well directed, very well acted, and emotionally engaging. Also I recall that the final big action sequence was a blast to watch.

    Personally I have no problem in accepting Kurt in everyman roles. In fact I think that’s what he has played in the majority of movies he has made.

  21. Stu – It’s been awhile but was there any hint during that scene to suggest the sheriff was in on the scam and paid to look the other way while Walsh did his thing?

    Tuuka – Yeah, but in this case he’s an upper-middle class yuppie everyman as opposed to a working class everyman which is really what he’s known for.

  22. It has been a long time since I have seen this one but I remember really enjoying it. I will have to revisit it. I really miss Kurt Russel and wish he was making more movies. I wonder if it is because he is not interested in working as regularly or if he has trouble getting good roles these days.

  23. I like this movie, but the third act lets down its best moment. There’s that part when it looks like Kathleen Quinlan is dead, and Kurt gets this perfect look which strongly suggests he’s going to enjoy spending the rest of his day killing these guys. If the movie veered off and became a total revenge thriller for the 3rd act it would have been a classic, because the everything up to that point is pretty great. Instead Kathleen Quinlan doesn’t die and there’s the big car chase and the couple comes out of it all with a stronger marriage.

    Oh well.

  24. Jareth Cutestory

    April 30th, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Darryll: Ebert has had a bug up his ass about David Lynch ever since THE ELEPHANT MAN; he also famously failed to comprehend BLUE VELVET on any meaningful level. Even his positive review of MULHOLLAD DR is pedestrian with no real insight into the film. The only comment by Ebert on a Lynch film that I would trust would be that one time he admitted that maybe he isn’t the best guy to be reviewing Lynch. So it wouldn’t surprise me that he would extend the same misgivings he had with WILD AT HEART to similar scenes in other films. He often sounds like PMRC-era Tipper Gore in his reviews.

    Paul: Did you really see Cruise’s character as an everyman in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE? Or are you making a pun on all those masks he wears (he is EVERY man)?

  25. caruso_stalker217

    April 30th, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Ebert was right about DUNE, at least.

    On the other hand, his one star review of DEATH TO SMOOCHY is complete bullshit and reads like he didn’t even watch the movie.

  26. I hate paranoid movies. All this “strangers want to get me and my family and want to kill/rape/do bad things to us” crap. Let me just offer this though: all families starts when two strangers meet. Unless you live in those native tribes where you are promised to marriage by your parents rght when you are born, in our world families are made wehn two strangers meet, like each others, find thmselves compatible and then marry and have kids. Who will later marry people who were strangers. So, this “paranoid” type of movies has a self-defeating logic behind them. One of the reasons i really rarely like them.

  27. Paul, there are no everymen in Antartica. Every one of them are either scientists or highly skilled technicians. Though even the movie ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD romanticises it a bit, everybody working in antarctica are extremely competent specialists. It needs to bethat way to work on such enviroments. MacReady in THE THING is not an everyman. There’s no everyman in Antarctica.

    And this is antehr thing that really roubles me: this classicism from even the blue colllars. What, you will only enjoy a movie if the main character is a blue collar? That is in itself a virtue? that’s classicism, it’s a from of snobery, as bad as the same we despise from the rich. It’s bulshit. Wha,t you couldn’t like MacReady if he was a scientists? He has to be a greaseball for you to enjoy him?

    This “i like this character because he’s blue colar cool” is just bullshit. either the character is interesting or not, be he a blue collar mechanic, while collar civil servant or a blue blood aristocrat. Classicism sucks.

  28. Well Asimov, fortunately humans have found ways to continue reproducing despite the setbacks caused by the paranoia in BREAKDOWN. Man is a resilient creature.

  29. Asimov – WHOA! Chill dude! I happen to love “The Thing”-esque movies. But I also love “Lost in Translation” and “Juno”, and one could hardly call them “paranoia films”.

    As for “everymen”, Tom Cruise in “MI” is hardly an everyman either. (Actually that’s largely what I liked about him – one of the many irritating things about MI:3 was seeing this ultra-observant ultra-skilled expert in all things espionage reduced to a civillian who’s led around by his dick the whole way through.)

    Vern – I know, but you have to go to see the “right” movies to see this demonstrated, and perhaps Asimov doesn’t? I mean, to take an example purely at random here, if you looked at Steven Seagal for guidance, you’d think that all you needed to do is a lot of hugging. Now I’m not convinced that will get the “results” that you want.

  30. neal2zod – Well Ebert’s problem is that he’s a classic liberal. Not the new kind spawned by Dubya, but the pre-Nixon school of liberalism, but the way he deploys that logic is purely subjective. Remember his defense of WILD BUNCH?

    What would be the difference that and BREAKDOWN in terms of the supposed violence against the antagonists?

    I mean I thought the villain death in BREAKDOWN was appropriate. I mean Russell had a BREAKDOWN, you think he’s suddenly going to pull back and be restrained in how he deals with this guy who fucked with him this whole time? I doubt it.

    It’s called overkill for a reason. There was a point to it.

  31. Jareth – To be fair, Ebert also gave a good review to INLAND EMPIRE.

    Even if I’m sure he and I both still don’t know what exactly Lynch was doing in that one.

  32. I think the review of INLAND EMPIRE was actually written by someone filling in for Ebert. To be honest, I’ve always found his sudden “conversion to Lynch” with MULHOLLAND DRIVE a bit unconvincing, but then I am a bit of what the kids would call a “Lynch-hater”

  33. Darryl- The Sheriff shows up later and he’s definitely not in on it with the kidnappers

  34. Stu- Yeah, I thought so. Kind of a convenient plot device to have a sheriff that far out to lunch.

    After my initial viewing of INLAND EMPIRE I thought it was basically Lynch emptying out his desk of a lot of junk ideas. Clearing space for new stuff. I didn’t get it and I am a Lynch-Lover.

    Having watched it a second time recently I was able to make out more structure and connective tissue. There’s definitely something there. I’m not some pompous ass that claims to understand any of his films but I do enjoy trying to unravel them.

  35. AsimovLives – It’s my understanding that MacReady is a working class everyman who was trained to fly helicopters in Vietnam. He finds himself basically exiled (self or otherwise) to Antarctica, surrounded by eggheads and other damaged vets due to his alcoholism and having burned all his bridges back in the world. Mac is smart and, above all, a survivor but he’s no elite specialist. Antarctica is just the only place he can get away with flying a chopper while half in the bag.

  36. This is one of my dad’s favorite movies. He’s a JT Walsh fanatic and loves just about anything Kurt Russell is in. Captain Ron is also one of his favorites. Poor dad.

    But I have pretty fond memories of watching this on vhs a few times with my pops. He has good taste in bad-ass cinema for a 63 year old. Again, except for Captain Ron.

  37. But at least Kurt gave his all to that role. He fucking WAS Captain Ron.

  38. Vern, yes, we humans are pretty resilient, aren’t we? Just like the virus and cockroaches.

    My point is, seems among the action movie geekerati, the only worthy type of hero is one that is blue collar. I find that nonsense.

  39. Darryll, i donpt know where you get that ide,a but i tell you, you cna’t find everyment in antartica. Specially in the 80s, which were all eggheads or highly trainer and trusted military personel.

    Wait, i get it, i know where you get that notion that MacReady must be some exile or whatever nonsense: you have been watchignt he TV version of the movie, havne’t you? The one that oepns with the voice over narration that tells who is who, right? That’s it, isn’t it? Thank goodness i never saw that crap!

  40. Yeah, and I liked Captain Ron as a kid. But I caught it on cable a few years ago and I was like, “Jesus, Dad… how could you enjoy this?” My pops just loves Kurt Russell.

    And Asimov… I’m sure we all dig a James Bond movie or two (or, heck, four), but in general, is it ever fun to see a really rich guy in an action film? Classicism or not, I think it just doesn’t work, save for Batman…

    Even if you’re not a working class guy, there’s just something thrilling about watching a normal dude rise to the challenge. Especially if, in a “Die Hard” type situation, the normal guy is fighting against far more cosmopolitan bad guys.

    “Breakdown” sort of exploits our natural tendency to gravitate towards blue collar guys as good guys. That’s probably accounts (in part) for Vern’s sympathy for Walsh’s wife.

  41. Asimov – Oh yes, those infamous Universal “TV Cuts” from the 80s.

    Let’s see, LEGEND, DUNE, THE THING, BRAZIL…what else?

    It’s like Universal really tried their best to “mainstream” those box office failures by making them as bland, ugly, and dull as possible.

    I wonder how their version of BACK TO THE FUTURE would have been like if it had got clocked in theatres.

  42. I have to admit I’m rather fond of CAPTAIN RON, although as you might have guessed this is not entirely unrelated to having seen it, or at least bits of it, more than once before my age reached double figures (usually with the “we’re going to fucking die” bit cut, natch)

  43. Great review, inc 2 bonus nuggets of insight. Enjoyed Asmiov’s rants too. Take a chill pill dude though, no need to go ranting about like a fucking idiot just to make your point.

  44. AU-A – I think Asimov’s problem might be that he treats this web sight like AICN, where you do basically have to be an asshole to both make your point, and be noticed in the first place.

    Also happens even to the best of us, knowing you’re at least a tad more intelligent than the people bitching you out who can’t even wipe their own ass. You tend to come off as more of a dick than you should or need be, but it happens.

    Except at Vern’s you neither need be a shithead or rage like a snake bit you in the balls to be noticed or taken seriously.

  45. FYI guys, if everyone’s going to keep arguing about this: prejudice on the basis of social class is generally known as “CLASSISM.” “CLASSICISM” would be more like hating “The Thing” because it’s not written in iambic pentameter.

  46. The whole “MacReady is a drunken vet banished to Antarctica to fly choppers via alchoholism” backstory comes from Bill Lancaster’s script.

    I do recall seeing a bizarre T.V. version of The Thing once that had those brief V.O. intros of the different characters. They all were derived from this page of character descriptions that opens Lancaster’s script (like some stage plays).

    But I only saw that once. Otherwise, every time I saw The Thing on TV it was basically the same as the the theatrical cut except for a few things having been edited out–in come cases it actually improved the film. They left in almost all the violence and cursing, if I recall, but some of the edits were, for instance, you don’t see MacReady playing the electronic chess game, your first sight of him is when he emerges from his shack as the Norweigan helicopter passes by it. I think this works better then the other way. Sometimes the TV versions were cut and put together by the original creative teams (Martin Scorsese talks about doing this on his commentary for RAGING BULL) and they took the opportunity to make small changes or use alternate takes or even minor improvements to things they didn’t like in the theatrical version. I suspect that may have been the case with at least one TV version of THE THING: if Carpenter was involved in putting it together, he may have had second thoughts about the electronic chess intro.

    Somebody should do an article about the Universal 80s TV cuts. That would actually be a good subject for one of Matt Soller Zeitz’s video essays, assuming he could get copies of the TV versions…

  47. AsimovLives

    I dunno man, my buddy worked ‘on the ice’ on Antarctica and I have to say that guy is neither a specialist nor any type of guy you’d want around impressionable youth

    He IS an everyman and having met some of the guys he worked with, I have to say they aren’t exactly the Thunderbirds

  48. J T Walsh, I loved that guy.

    Remember when Nicholson mentioned him in one of his Oscar speeches and his voice kind of cracked?
    Man if you can die and have Jack fucking Nicholson talk about you with a tremble in his voice, you really did a good fuckin job man

    Fucking legend IMO

  49. CC – I didn’t know there was a version without the electronic chess game, and yes, I do think the film would be better without it. But then my problems with “The Thing” come from the part immediately after the blood test, and immediately before the bit where Childs and MacReady sit down in the snow (one of the best downbeat endings of any film ever btw). It’s when the men KNOW that they’re all human, and the first thing they do is split up. Huh? Meanwhile the Thing decides to abandon all the tactics it’s used before in order to show itself to Mac as a giant, easily-killable monster. Double huh? And while I think the Wilford Brimley / Donald Moffatt / face-grab scene is just awesome, nothing else anybody does in that part of the movie makes any damn sense.

    If they’re really going to remake that movie, the first thing they need to do is sort out what happens after the men take the “test”, because that’s the only thing in the original that just didn’t work. It’s always frustrating watching the movie (which despite that one sequence is one of my favorites) and then getting to that part of it, knowing what’s going to happen, and groaning because it’s just so damn stupid.

    Kuryakin – 100% agreed, JT Walsh was one of the most under -appreciated actors out there, primarily for work like this. I can’t remember any movie I saw with him in it where I felt he was “coasting”.

  50. There, are, thankfully, no serious plans for remaking THE THING, although honestly I would be less concerned about a remake of Carpenter’s film then I was / am about a lot of these others because THE THING is, of course, itself already A REMAKE. (Well, a 2nd adaptation, but.) Same with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. When something is a remake or adaptation of original source material it’s a slightly differant situation then the usual plundering of horror’s past greats that’s been going on lately. They are, however, going to do a “prequel” which shows what happened at the Norweigan base. That, I can take it or leave it. If it’s well done, more power to ’em. If it’s terrible, it’ll be pretty quickly forgotten (like the JAWS sequels–most of my teenage friends who like JAWS don’t even know that there were sequels made to it, and don’t really much care). Personally, I like the mystery of the ruins of the Norwiegan base in THE THING but, hey, at least it’s not a remake.

    Guillermo Del Toro’s script for IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is, less an adaptation of just the Lovecraft story, as a combination it with the original John W. Campbell story “Who Goes There?”–it’s Carpenter and Campbell’s shape-changing, human impersonating Thing but in a 1930s period setting. If it ever gets made, I suspect it’s ironically gonna get accused of ripping off Carpenter’s film….

  51. CC – yeah, that’s true. Also “The Thing” had very little in common with “The Thing from Another World”, largely because despite my reservations above “The Thing” is an excellent film while the fifties version was deservedly forgotten – it’s pretty bad.

  52. AsimovLives – I never saw the TV version you’re referring to. I just inferred it from Russell’s performance. All the clues are there.

    I understand what you’re saying about people who work in Antarctica in real life. The harsh environment calls for highly trained, disciplined people but this is a movie and in the movies we enjoy seeing hard drinking underdogs fight shape changing monsters. Realism be damned. And besides, the highly trained egghead characters, who understand the implications are too fucking scared to do anything but bust up radios. It requires a guy with nothing left to lose to take charge of this ragged band of losers.

    Finally, allow me to second what RRA wrote. This is not AICN. You are guest in Vern’s house. Debate is encouraged, being a shithead is not.

  53. Has anyone seen the variety of eccentrics featured in Werner Herzog’s Antarctica documentary, ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD?

  54. CC, unfortunately they are making a reboot/remake of The Thing.

    Speaking of alternate television cuts of films. I remember the first time I saw Aliens was on TV. One of my favorite scenes was when the set up the automated motion sensitive gun turrets outside of the room Ripley and crew had sealed themselves into, and the guns depleted all their ammo against a massive alien siege. I thought it was cool because it showed how hopelessly outnumbered they were, but when I talked to my friends about the scene they swore that never happened in the movie. I rented the movie to rewatch it and prove my point but was disappointed to find no such scene in the film. I started to doubt my own memory. Years later I bought the directors cut of Aliens on DVD and that scene was in that cut of the film. It turns out the extended cut of the film with that scene aired once on CBS and I was just lucky to have caught it.

  55. Charles – I had the exact same experience with the turret gun scene on CBS for Aliens. All my friends though I was making it up! Even though watching it now, that scene is kind of disposable (it does add tension but in the end doesn’t really accomplish much) – I have no idea why they cut out the “Ripley’s daughter” scene from the final movie. That scene’s like 2 minutes long, tops, and adds so much depth (and even humor with the bluescreen gag). I keep telling people now that Sigourney’s Best Actress Oscar nomination (which I still can’t believe the Academy was cool enough to do) would have had a much better shot had that scene been left in. In fact, I’m extra surprised she got a Best Actress nod with that scene taken out (since it’s easily the most emotional and actress-y scene in the film)

    It’s too bad the Aliens Director’s Cut on DVD adds in that whole scene with the colony and the scientists. Not only does it drag and pad the running time, but it actually breaks the flow since it’s literally the ONLY scene where Sigourney’s not in it. I never though I’d say the CBS version is the definitive cut, but it is to me.

  56. neal2zod – And add to your good points, I think the early added colony scenes are just too cheesy B movie for what otherwise is a well-crafted summer blockbuster thriller.

  57. Neal2zod, I agree with you about the scenes at the colony with the scientists. I just wish there was a way to watch the CBS cut again. It has been a long time since I have seen it. I also seem to remember seeing a different cut of Marked For Death on TV. The additional scenes were nothing memorable. I think it was more stuff with his family. Did anyone else ever see that one?

  58. Charles: They are NOT remaking “The Thing”. I will repeat: they are doing a “prequel” showing the events at the Norwegian base immediatly preceeding the events of Carpenter’s film. I don’t know if it’s going to be called “Der Ting Frum Anudder Wurlden”, or possibly “Dead Snow” but we can hope.

    (“Dead Snow” must be the only horror film in history where the character’s hopes of survival hinge on making it too the nearest fjord.)

    ALSO, you can now get the (inferior) theatrical cut of Aliens on the recent special edition DVD.

    Paul: THE FIFTIES VERSION IS DESERVEDLY FORGOTTEN??!? What planet are you on??? That’s considered one of the all-time classic science-fiction films in American cinema! It’s in Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, for starters; Martin Scorsese considers it one of his favorite films of the 1950s; Manny Farber chose it as one of the best films of 1951; it’s included in the curriculum of a Harvard arts history class! It’s about as far from forgotten (or “bad”) as you can get.

    Y’know, it actually ocurred to me recently that the secret grandfather of the slasher film is probably THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. The creators of the slasher films in the late 70s and early 80s had all seen it as kids in the 50s and early 60s (on television, at least–when I was a kid in the 80s they were still showing it all the time, along with stuff like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and SANDS OF IWO JIMA). Michael Myers is very similar to The Thing–dark clothing, pale white face, silent, seemingly indestructible, leaps out of doorways to attack the other characters. And the whole basic concept of the “classic” slasher film (Halloween, Friday The 13th, all the ripoffs) is of a group of characters in some isolated, out of the way location being stalked by an almost unstoppable, humanoid killing machine. That’s the plot of the Howard Hawks Thing right there.

    The 50s Thing was also a huge influence on ALIEN and ALIENS, by the way.

  59. CC: An even huger influence on Alien (if not Aliens, directly) was another 50s movie called… um… “X: The Somethingorother”. (Sorry, I’ve forgotten the whole title.) For all practical purposes it’s the plot of Alien, except done in the 50s, and except it’s a lot closer to what Alien eventually became than the original Thing was to the remake.

    Regarding TV versions being superior sometimes to theatrical (and subsequent tape/DVD): there were cuts of the first two “Superman” movies running on ABC (if I recall correctly) which were so superior to the cuts on tape and DVD, that I was terribly disappointed in the DVD releases of those two movies for promoting “Superman Returns”. (Especially the new cut of Superman 2, which not only seemed to keep the worst choppyness of Luthor’s side of the plot, but of course also reinstated the ridiculous original idea of Superman having slept with Lois first and then going human in order to ‘be with her’, in order to match up with the plot in Singer’s movie.) Anyway, the best edits I ever saw of those movies were on TV.

  60. And how is it that Vern has never given us his thoughts on EXECUTIVE DECISION?? That review is still missing right? (Maybe it’s in the Seagology book as a special feature not available on the websight…)

    And the Kurt Russell-as-Elvis biopic, for that matter.

    (Not that I’m ungrateful for him finally reviewing Breakdown, but still the ED review seems like a no-brainer.)

  61. Yep, you gotta buy the book for the Executive Decision review – but it’s definitely worth it – that book hasn’t left my bathroom since I got it. And I mean that in the fondest way.

    Enough of the 20 different Blade Runner, Highlander, and Alexander cuts – I demand Aliens: The CBS Cut on DVD right now. And before the people who read this think we’re all insane for liking a TV-edit of a movie – I should point out that only the language was cut out – i’m almost positive all of the violence was left in (easily the goriest scene – Bishop’s “demise”, is definitely intact – I guess since most of the onscreen violence happens to robots and aliens, the censors gave it a pass?)

    Do tell about a Marked for Death TV cut! Was there an actual storyline for Joanna Pacula’s character? Or did she just disappear like in the theatrical? Was there even more sightseeing/disclaimer-making in Jamaica? How in the world did they show Screwface’s death on network TV?

  62. Oh, by the way: “Plus if she keeps the property what’s she gonna do with that underground chamber? She could turn it into a video game lounge or something for the kid but it’s gonna have bad memories, you know.”

    Doesn’t the kid grow up to write scathing video reviews of the NextGen Star Trek movies and the Star Wars prequels?


  63. Sabreman: You’re thinking of IT: THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. A damn good B-Movie from the 50s written by sci-fi author Jerome Bixby, who also wrote some of the best TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, like “It’s A GOOD Life.” (What my ex-girlfriend always used to call “The cornfield one!”) And yes, that (along with Mario Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and Hawk’s THE THING), was a gigantic influence on ALIEN. IT was released on a very good DVD a few years back on MGM’s “Midnight Movies” series (looking at it on my DVD shelf as I type) and the I recommend it. The first time you see it your jaw is just totally on the floor–every five minutes I was like, “Holy shit! That’s–ALIEN totally stole that!”

    ALIENS was also influenced by Hawk’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (Hudson’s “5 meters! 4 meters! 2 meters!” was taken from the scene in THE THING where the geiger counter detects The Thing approaching) but the real influence on that film was the great 50s sci-fi action film THEM! Also known as the “giant ants” film, which still holds up today. Newt, the Alien nest, the queen, the egg chamber, the Space Marines, all have their origins in THEM!

    Also the book Starship Troopers was a big influence too–ALIENS can accurately be described as Starship Troopers meets THEM!

  64. And yeah, the TV edits of the Superman films WERE a lot better.

    Another example of superior moments in TV edits was THE ROAD WARRIOR. They cut the arrow hitting the rabbit and the guy’s fingers getting cut off, and I liked the subtler versions better.

  65. CC – what? People actually STUDY the fifties version of “The Thing”? For what? Even for its time it looks dated. The only tension in the movie comes from the military guys vs scientist guys squabbles, and even that had been done before (and better) long before that film came out.

    It always amazes me what old movies are considered classics (the original “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers”, which isn’t a patch on the 70s remake, and mute-girl-in-danger so-called-thriller “The Spiral Staircase” being prime examples of films which probably should have been forgotten but are inexplicably well-regarded), but I never thought that one would rank among them.

  66. CC – You like your ROAD WARRIOR subtle? Did I read that right? Did you also prefer when the TV version of DIE HARD had McCLane say, “Yippee kay A, little doggy.” Is that subtle enough for you?

  67. Paul–Look, I’ve never seen THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. But THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and Don Siegal’s THE INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS are great movies. THING ’51 is a true, true classic. It’s brilliantly written, superbly acted, one of Howard Hawk’s finest hours as a director (even if he did give credit to Christian Nyby to try to get the guy a career). It’s one of the all-time greatest ensemble films. The modern genre of “science-fiction” essentially began in 1951 with THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

  68. Daryll: Don’t be an asshole. Or am I being too subtle for you?

    Anyway…I thought those moments worked better when the violence was implied: the henchmen’s severed fingers always seemed like a crude shock for shock’s sake (and looks kind’ve fake); and the rabbit getting nailed by the arrow never seemed necessary either. You see Wes shoot at it, you know he ain’t gonna miss it, the focus is on his move and people’s reaction, rather then jamming this moment of cruelty to animals (to a bunny, no less!) in the audience’s face.

    Godard, I think, said something once like, “If one wants only to make an audience react, show some chickens being slaughtered in a barnyard.” Now, obviously, such imagery can a lot of times really ENHANCE a scene, as in, well, THE ROAD WARRIOR, or even moreso, in Sam Peckinpah’s PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID, which opens with, yes, actual chickens being slaughtered, in big, really disturbing close-up. And the TV version of that replaced the chickens with bottles being shot and broken, and that’s a terrible change. It’s all a matter of context.

  69. Sorry, CC. My post was meant to come off as amused shock, not confrontational. But come on, It’s ROAD WARRIOR. It’s about barbaric gangs who rape and pillage and use humans for bumpers on there vehicles. This is the one all others are measured against. And very few measure up.

    But I see your point. Begrudgingly. They did pull back from showing the dog get pierced with an arrow. That’s probably for the best, I suppose. But the fingers flying off was awesome!

  70. I’ve got my eye on you, PacmanFever.

    BREAKDOWN must be one of those movies that plays great if you don’t know anything about it and stumble across it on cable. But now so many people have done just that — and written comments about it on blogs — that’s it’s become OVERrated.

    I rented it as a double-feature with DUEL and watched them with the girlfriend. The former made her feel sick to her stomach from the tension. Every single shot is perfectly chosen, and this was an unknown director who had made a NIGHT GALLERY and the COLUMBO pilot, working with a TV budget and schedule. He even had to talk the suits out of forcing him to use rear projection for the car shots!

    Mostow, on the other hand, is a competent but unremarkable second or even third-string action guy. I often confuse him with John Dahl. He had a decent budget, a solid script and a good cast, and he succeeded in not fucking it up — which is good enough to get a guy a TERMINATOR sequel. Also, I kind of hate the way BREAKDOWN looks, with its generic, mid-Nineties hazy/pretty cinematography.

    I’m probably going overboard. There’s a lot to like about the movie. It has a nice, slow build. Walsh is great, of course. Russell is also very good, and I like the clever reversal with the stereotypical “noble retarded guy.” It just needed something, like more of a STRAW DOGS edge to the violence, in order to be a real classic.

    I like and respect Ebert, (despite his completely missing the boat on BLUE VELVET) but BREAKDOWN needed to be nastier, not nicer.

  71. I’m a big John Dahl supporter. He’s big in television now but his 90s feature work was pretty great. JOY RIDE is a much better picture than BREAKDOWN and it contains one of my favorite shots of all time. RED ROCK WEST with Nic Cage and THE LAST SEDUCTION with Linda Fiorentino are also good. Dahl was and is a tight, competent storyteller with a visual flair that usually set his films apart from the fodder. Nowadays, he’s involved with some of the best shows on TV but I’d like to see him return to theatrical features.

  72. Supposedly John Dahl and Walter Hill were on the list of people they were trying to get to direct the last Punisher movie. Either one would’ve been interesting.

  73. I guess I came across as dismissive of Dahl, which wasn’t my intention. THE LAST SEDUCTION is certainly more memorable and perverse than anything Mostow has done so far. But he was supposed to be the next big thing, and then he sort of fizzled. Was it UNFORGETTABLE that derailed him?

    I vaguely recall a WWII movie set in the Philippines that he made a couple of years ago, which came and went pretty fast. Maybe it’s worth a peek at through the rear-Vern window.

  74. THE GREAT RAID. Yeah, it didn’t leave much of an impression. It was Dahl’s last feature film but he was already making the transition to TV by that point. The cast was composed of B level stars and character actors. That may account for it’s poor showing. He worked with a number of up and coming young actors at the time but very few truly bankable stars. A lot of the kids he worked with, though, went on to become huge stars later.

    UNFORGETTABLE, as I barely recall, was yet another attempt to find a niche for Ray Liotta. For all his talent there was something about that guy that just sucked the energy out of a project. Scorcese, of course, was the only one to have any success with him.

    For me, even though I’d seen his other work first, it was JOY RIDE that really brought him to my attention. Sure, it’s a bloodless, derivative road thriller but it’s a great date movie. It’s shot with real style and the tension inherent in the economical script is right there on the screen. Steve Zahn is great and it sure doesn’t hurt to have Ted Levine as the voice of Rusty Nail. My favorite shot is the dolly onto the motel room painting until it fills the entire frame. Lightning plays off it, almost animating it. An amazing shot that’s proven to be even more amazing once I learned it was conceived on the fly during blocking procedures with the actors in that motel room.

  75. CC – “The Day the Earth Stood Still” – now we’re talking. THAT was a fifties genre classic, if you like.

    But Bodysnatchers? Everybody bitches (correctly) about the ending, but it has many, many other problems. The soundtrack is the prime one for me. It does the horrible “dramatic violins” thing that was also the only negative point about Bogart’s “The Little Sister”. But I guess that was to be expected before Bernard Hermann came along to show everybody how it’s done.

    But more than that… the human characters aren’t human enough. The doctor and his girlfriend, who’s supposed to be a small-town girl – both look and talk like Hollywood stars.

    And the Bodysnatchers themselves aren’t alien enough. They’re supposed to be perfect replicas of human beings who are only distinguishable by their lack of emotion. Well I think they got the first part right, but not the second. In the Gabrielle Anwer version they went the other way, with the bodysnatchers looking less than human, usually just standing and staring (although Meg Tilly was fantastic), but the Donald Sutherland version got it perfect. Remember the scene where Brooke talks almost hysterically to her boyfriend, and he just laughs at her, like he’s done (and we’ve seen) before when he’s human? But in this case it’s totally out of place, and she looks as though he’s just hit her? He’s done nothing out of the ordinary, but there’s a complete lack of empathy there. THAT’S a great scene. No equivalent of it in the fifties version.

    I can see why it was a classic at the time, especially with the undertones of McCarthyism (which is quite funny given that it stars Kevin McCarthy) but it’s aged really badly. The soundtrack (another thing the seventies version got spot-on) is terrible, and kinda ruins it for me. I can also understand it being studied (although I wouldn’t say the same thing about “The Thing from another world”) as it’s a great insight into filmmaking during the era where the Communist threat pervaded everything. But I don’t think it’s a great movie, even though in many ways it’s a good one.

  76. Duel was one of my favorite movies so I remember being pumped for this movie back in the day.

    And generally enjoyed it. It wasn’t amazing, but solid I think. One of the last few of it’s kind really – a Hollywood made, story driven, moderately budgeted action thriller that got a cinematic release. There are probably more out there that have been put out since then but none really stand out, and the last really good one was probably The Fugitive.

    Oh and this is also humble request from a long time lurker and few time poster for a review of The Fugitive please Vern

  77. Darryll – I just realised what you meant by “Joy Ride”, which came out by another name here in the UK (“Roadkill”). I went into that movie not expecting too much, but was very pleasantly surprised. (See also: “Lake Placid”, “Galaxy Quest”, etc.) It’s a very taut little thriller with a great unseen villain who’s voiced by Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs”. It’s not the most original film ever, but the leads are great (Paul Walker is unexpectedly good) and the story is solid. It’s very atmospheric, pretty damn scary at times, knows exactly what it wants to do and does it well. Would definitely recommend that one, along with the original version of “The Vanishing” and a few other films mentioned by other people here. “Duel” is also great. “Road Games” is great. “Wolf Creek” is… crap, sorry Vern, I don’t care about the “torture porn” thing, but I do care about good filmmaking and good character-work, and “Wolf Creek” has neither of those things; from the moment the villain (who is terrible – really, really bad) first appears, the film pretty much loses it. But that’s an aberration.

    In summary – road trips and truck stops are great for thriller flicks.

  78. ROADKILL, eh? I think I like that name better than JOY RIDE. Joy Ride has more irony but Roadkill places the movie more firmly in the road picture where killing is involved genre. Probably my favorite of all the genres. I haven’t seen ROAD GAMES in years but I’ve been wanting to revisit it. Gotta love Stacy Keach.

    On THE VANISHING – My buddy and I recently revisited this one for his podcast. It’s a real go-getter of a movie. One of the (if not the) best in the genre mentioned above. One question, though. You know the part where Rex breaks up with his new girlfriend, then sits at his computer to visit some dating site and suddenly Saskia’s name pops up over and over on the screen? I never got that part. In fact, I never really bought his relationship with the new girlfriend at all. What sort of gal would hook up with a guy so obviously obsessed with his previous, tragic relationship? It was kind of a speed bump for me in an otherwise excellent killing while on the road picture.

  79. Since people mentioned John Dahl: Kill Me Again. That’s a gem. Madsen’s killer Elvis is like Jaws in that film, you can’t even stop him by cuffing him to a desk.

    I liked Breakdown a lot when it came out. Pretty taut and no-nonsense, and Russell starting off as an easy-going doofus didn’t present me with any big issues to work past. He pulled it off okay.

    My only problem was the pretend mentally-disabled guy. When I see a character like that putting up an act that’s good enough to fool people I wonder where they picked up such convincing skills, Evil Acting School? Did he study on the same course that the villain from Primal Fear attended?

    As for the bad taste in the mouth ending of the good guy conclusively killing the bad guy, I think waiting for the villain to raise his gun one last time so that you’re then truly officially licensed to kill him is much much more worthy of mouthwash. Only beaten by when it’s spelled out specifically that Villain accidentally falls off bridge/onto spike/out of window/into abyss and wasn’t deliberately pushed by Hero.

  80. I confess to never having seen KILL ME AGAIN but that box art is awesome: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm869899264/tt0097662
    It’s another case, similar to the CHAINS OF GOLD box art, where the hero doesn’t look remotely like he’s connected to the arm holding the gun in that picture.

    Having said that, I’ll bet it’s a cool movie.

  81. Kill me again? Is that the one that stars Val Kilmer as a private eye? Saw it years ago and remember enjoying it at the time… can’t remember much about it now.

  82. Damn, that cover art makes it look like his gun hand protrudes from his crotch. Rest assured, in the film it is attached to his shoulder.

  83. That didn’t make sense, his gun hand is attached to his shoulder? I meant his arm.

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